Tag Archives: Italy’s Silk Industry

Taking Trips Sometimes Bring Back Memories of My Parents

6 Nov

When I was a child, we never really traveled anywhere, except the Catskills. When there were school vacations, we might go visit an aunt and uncle in New Brunswick, but going on a trip that included a plane ride or a long car journey was unheard of to my family.

Each May we would go up to the Catskills for the Memorial Day weekend and get our bungalow open, aired out and ready for the season.   But then it was back to school for a month until the end of June when we journeyed up 17 to exit 104 and our summer home. But that was it.

My father traveled for his business. He went to Europe and California several times a year. He usually went to Milan and Como, Italy on business. Milan was/is the center of the fashion industry, and my Dad was in the textile/fashion industry.

Once in a while my Mom would travel with him, but not very often. She was a teacher and could not leave her class. She also did not want to leave us. But she did go to California and Milan several times.

When my parents were stilled alive, I went to Milan with my husband and son. My husband was speaking at a medical meeting there. My Dad told me in advance that I had to go to Como. He said it was a jewel of a city.

When we were asked if there was anything I wanted to do while there, I mentioned Como and the silk trade. I just wanted to find out how to get there.


Next thing I knew, there was a private car with a driver/guide, as well as a translator, to take us to Como for a day and visit the Silk museum and school. This was the center of silk and textiles in Italy for many generations. I think they were amazed I knew about silk and Como. When most people mention Como they also mention George Clooney. But not me, for me it was all the textiles.

It was wonderful. The driver/guide had actually studied at the university there. Our interpreter really did not need to tell me what the guide was telling me. Once I got into the museum, I knew all about it from my Dad’s businesses, first his embroidery shop in New Jersey and then his textile firm where I had worked when I was in college.

The guide and I had a great time examining every machine and the display case. My son and husband walked around with the translator, while the guide and I bonded over textiles and jacquard embroidery machines.

That was many years after my father took his last trip to Italy. It had been years since his retirement and the closure of his business. I bought him a book about the museum. When I got back we spoke about Como, that jewel of a city. A day was not enough. I could spend a week or more there. It is lovely.

I remember my first plane journey. It was with my family. We used to get dressed up to fly in those days. No sweats and t-shirts! The winter break of my freshman year of college, my family went to Florida and stayed at the Fontainebleau in Miami. It was the vacation of a lifetime for us. We had never journeyed so far from home before. My sister, brother and I had a wonderful time just relaxing on the beach.

I do have one regret. My sister, who was a sophomore in high school, wanted to go to Disney World. There was a bus trip we could have taken. But I did not want to go, and my parents would not let my sister go alone. My sister and I finally did get to Disney World together and spent a day at Epcot. I felt like I had redeemed myself. I loved it! We had a wonderful time. I had been to Disney World many times with my husband and children. But going with my sister was special.

Forty years later I went back to the Fontainebleau with my husband. I stood at the pool and I told concierge that it had changed so much since I had last been there. He was so impressed with how much I remembered from the trip when I was 18 that he gave me a copy of a small book written about the hotel’s history as a gift. I was thankful. The photos in the book brought back so many memories of that earlier trip with my parents and siblings.

My parents’ biggest trip, without us, was when I was a senior in high school and they went to India for three weeks. They never forgot that trip. The highlight for them was going to the Taj Mahal, the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of a Shah/emperor.   I saw the photos and remember my Mom’s telling me it was the most beautiful building in the world.

My husband has seen the Taj. He told me that the Taj Mahal was the most breath taking building he has ever seen. That even when he was leaving, he kept turning around to look at it again because it was so beautiful and amazing. His descriptions matched those of my parents’ recollections. And my interest in the Taj Mahal became more intense.

I have never gone to India, even though my husband has been there twice. But I made him and myself a promise. If he ever had to go to India again, and he was going to Agra where the Taj Mahal was located, I would go with him.

Later this year I will follow in my parents’ footsteps once again. I will walk up the path to the white marble tomb and see the building that fascinated my parents and my husband. I am going to see the Taj Mahal.







A Hudson County Embroidery Shop Started My Dad’s Career

26 Feb

Embroidery. That is the first word that comes to mind when I think of my Dad. The second is textiles.  These words define his profession.  Yes, he loved my Mom, my siblings and I. But it was the embroidery and textile industry where he spent most of his time.  My Dad’s life followed the course of the American textile industry.

When I was young, my Dad and a friend, Marty T., owned an embroidery shop in New Jersey on the corner of 60th Street and Bergen Boulevard in Hudson County.  At that time Union City was called the Embroidery Capital of the World, and North Bergen had many shops as well.

I remember going to visit him at work on rare occasions. First you entered a front room that showed samples of the work they had finished.  My Dad and his partner did lots of patches for the Army and Navy, as well as fabric.  I still have some curtains I made from fabric made in my Dad’s shop.  Even though it is more than 50 years old, it is in great shape.


Valance made from embroidered fabric from my Dad’s shop.

Behind the showroom was a large room with the big embroidery machines.  We knew not to ever touch them.  The rule was to walk down the middle aisle…turn right and go into the office.

But one time, the machines were down and being cleaned. So my Dad took me around and explained how they worked. How the cards told the machines where to stitch on the fabric.  I was intrigued.  Later I learned that these cards used on the jacquard embroidery machines helped in the development of computers!

When I was about 8, the business had a crisis.   Marty and Dad and taken in a third partner. This guy was a crook, a ‘goniff. ‘ He embezzled money from the firm and disappeared.  He did not pay any of the company’s bills. It was awful for my family.  Dad held three jobs through the help of friends and family.  We never saw him.  He borrowed money from family members to pay off the debts, and later spent many years paying back these loans. It was a tremendous burden that, although it scarred my Dad, it did not stop him.  He was persistent.

Finally he once again got a job in the textile embroidery business with a company called Hanna.   Mario, who owned Hanna, was both a mentor and supporter of my Dad. Dad started in production and moved to sales with Mario’s support.  Now Dad was now traveling around the country selling embroidery, checking the manufacturing and dealing with clients.

Although he learned to love sales, at first he was scared. He often told us how he walked around the block three times before he entered his first sales appointment.

At the time New Jersey and New York City were the hub of the textile industry of America.  North Carolina and Rhode Island had many textile mills. And Dad traveled to these states often.  However, over time the American textile industry declined as more and more fabric was imported from over seas.

Dad did not stay with Mario, he moved on to a company in New York City.  Arnie, the owner, became Dad’s new mentor and supporter. Eventually my Dad became manager of one of this company’s divisions.  He eventually bought this part of the company, started his own company and expanded it.  His niche was swimsuits and lingerie fabric.  He traveled not only in the US but also to Europe, primarily Italy. He had many friends in the textile industry.  I loved the summer I worked for him in Manhattan.  The many people I met did not forget me either.  When I got married, three different designers sent me peignoir sets for my honeymoon.

Many years later I went to Italy.  My Dad said, “Go to Como. It is the most beautiful city.  And it is where the silk industry of Italy started.”  In fact, Como was known as the City of Silk.

Book  from the Silk Museum in Como.

Book from the Silk Museum in Como.

So I went to Como.  Our tour guide had studies textiles at the university in Como. He took us to the Educational Silk Museum.  Even though he did not speak English and I do not speak Italian, we understood each other. Why? Because the machines were so like the machines in my dad’s embroidery shop from so long ago. I knew all about jacquard pints and how the cards told the machines where to stitch.  I recognized many of the pieces of equipment.  My husband just stood to the side as we analyzed everything.  I bought books about the textile/silk museum for both my Dad and for me.

My Dad spent his entire adult life in the American textile industry.  But even before he served in Korea for the US Army, he had one other experience in the ‘textile’ business.  When he was a teenage, Dad had the opportunity to work in a textile warehouse one summer. One of his best buddy’s father owned the company.  Every day they went to work in a giant empty warehouse where the two of them played catch.  But every once in a while a large shipment would come in. They would stencil all the boxes with words saying that there was textile machinery inside.

Years later, Dad was reading a book and started to laugh.  The book told about the smuggling of weapons to Israel before the 1948 war…the warehouse my Dad worked in that summer was one of those known to have shipped arms to Israel.

The American textile industry not only gave my Dad and my family a great life, it also provided my Dad with one of his favorite personal stories.


(Thanks to my brother for remembering with me.)